|Dr. Robert Puff|
Click here to go to the next issue
Highlights Home Page | Receive the Nondual Highlights each day
Issue #1257 - Thursday, November 14,
2002 - Edited by Jerry
Nonduality Of Christ
by Tadas Talaikis
"I am the Light of the world: he that
followeth Me shall
not walk in darkness, but shall have the Light of Life."
"All things were made by him, and without him was not
anything made that was made." John 1:3
'In him was life, and the life was the light of men."
"And the light (Christ) shineth in the darkness; and the
darkness comprehendeth it not." John 1:5
"That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that
is born into this world." John 1:9
"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the
ending" sayeth the Lord, "which is, and which was, and
which is to come, the Almighty." Revelations 1:8
"These things I have spoken to you that in me you might
have peace. In the world you shall have tribulations: But
be of good cheer; I have overcome (conquered) the
world." John 16:33
"I give you a commandment: Love one another." John 15:12
"For I have not spoken of myself, but the Father which
sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and
what I should speak. And I know his commandment is life
everlasting." John 12:49
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I
AM." John 8:58
"Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in
me, or else believe me for the very works' sake." John
"The light of the body is the eye: Therefore, when thine
eye is single, your whole body will be filled with
light...." Luke 11:34
"Go first to God and all things will be added unto you."
A Goer Does Not Go,
by : Sadakata Akira
"A goer does not go," or "a comer does not come" -- what
exactly do these statements mean? Should they not read "a
goer goes" and "a comer comes"?
The statement "a goer does not go" represents the words
of Nagarjuna, an Indian Buddhist philosopher of around
the third century A.D., and he used them to explain the
philosophical principle of 'emptiness' *1 As many people
know, the principle of emptiness is the essence of
Buddhist philosophy, teaching us that what we refer to
as 'substance' does not exist. (I use the pronoun "we"
to denote people conditioned by contemporary Western
ways of thinking and unfamiliar with Buddhist
'Emptiness' is the English equivalent of the Sanskrit
term sunyata, a word that is difficult to translate into
Western languages, for no similar concept exists in
traditional Western thought. But although Western
Indologists have provisionally rendered sunyata as
'emptiness', vacuite, and so on, such translations
easily lead to misunderstanding, since they are
synonymous with 'nonexistence', the opposite of
'existence'. According to Western thinking, what does not
exist is nonexistent; conversely, if something is not
nonexistent, it must exist, and there is no intermediate
state (law of the excluded middle). The term 'emptiness',
on the other hand, refers to a state of being neither
existent nor nonexistent.
Even among Buddhists who have been studying Buddhism for
a long time there are many who are under the false
impression that 'emptiness' and 'nonexistence' are
synonyms. Although they may take care consciously not to
confuse the two, they still do so unconsciously. This
goes to show just how difficult it is to gain a correct
understanding of the concept of emptiness. What is more,
this has been an issue ever since the philosophy of
emptiness was first propounded, and for those who
confuse emptiness with nonexistence there have been
provided these words of admonition: "emptiness is also
But it is virtually impossible to rid such people of
their misunderstanding by this means, for they will
again confuse the emptiness underlying the statement
"emptiness is also empty" with nonexistence and
postulate a new form of nonexistence.
In order to free them from this misconception, one could
perhaps say to them, "The fact that emptiness is empty
is also empty." But this would probably be of no avail,
since they would simply posit another form of
nonexistence. In the end, no amount of words will have
any effect on those who have succumbed to a prejudiced
view, which in this case is the idea that there exists a
substance or entity corresponding to each word. Thus they
consider the word 'emptiness' to signify a particular
kind of substance. In other words, they equate emptiness
with nonexistence. We normally think of 'nonexistence'
not as representing a substance, but rather as
representing the absence of substance. This is, however,
a delusion. When we say, "there is space," 'space' (that
is, nonexistence) represents a substance, as is
exemplified by Newtonian space.
At university I explain the difference between emptiness
and nonexistence to my students in the following manner.
I enter the classroom, walk to the rostrum, and place my
briefcase under the rostrum where it cannot be seen by
the students. Then, after having talked for about thirty
minutes, I bend down slowly, pick up the briefcase from
under the rostrum, place it on top of the rostrum, and
say nothing for a moment or two. The students, wondering
what is about to happen, fix their eyes on the
briefcase. Having ascertained this, I put the briefcase
back under the rostrum and begin my explanation.
I tell the students that they are now no doubt looking
at the space on top of the rostrum with the awareness
that the briefcase is not there. In other words, they
are associating this space with a type of
'nonexistence'. However, the space above the rostrum is
identical to the space above the rostrum during the
first thirty minutes of the class, and during that
thirty minutes they would not have had any thoughts of
'nonexistence' regarding this space. It would have been
for them in a state anterior to any division between
existence and nonexistence, and they could be said to
have been looking at it with minds free of any
preconceptions. These two attitudes of theirs towards the
same space correspond, I say, to the difference between
emptiness and nonexistence.
It might be added that Zen (or Chan) thinkers refer to
the state of nonawareness as 'no-mind', and they often
use this term to refer to what they regard as the ideal
state of being.
Out of the conviction that it is pointless trying to
explain the meaning of emptiness, no matter how many
words one may expend, there emerged in Buddhism the
axiom that ultimate truth (or the truth of emptiness) is
beyond all verbal expression. This means that one must
give up any idea of using language to explain truth.
Abandoning the use of language is equivalent to
abandoning the act of differentiation. This is because
the essence of language lies in differentiating one
thing from another. For example, the word 'large'
differentiates what is large from what is not large and
points to the former. Likewise, the word 'white'
distinguishes between what is white and what is not
white, 'book' distinguishes between what is a book and
what is not a book, and 'existent' distinguishes between
what is existent and what is not existent. Therefore,
the Buddhist term for dispensing with language
(including concepts, which are unspoken words) is
'nondifferentiation' (or 'nondiscrimination'), and the
appearance of the world prior to differentiation is
described as 'nondual'. (In passing, it might be
mentioned that, etymologically speaking, the prefix
dif-/dis- means 'twice', while the Japanese word
kotowake, signifying 'explication' or 'apology',
literally means 'dividing' [wake] a 'matter' [koto].)
The observant reader will have realized that if language
cannot impart truth, then words such as
'nondifferentiation' and 'nonduality' can also not
apprise us of the truth. This is indeed so, and Buddhist
philosophers have been fully aware of this fact. In a
certain Buddhist scripture we find the following episode.
Once the Buddha's disciples were discussing what it meant
to understand 'nonduality'. One of the disciples said,
"Birth and death are a duality, but in reality nothing is
born and nothing dies; realization of this is called
'understanding nonduality'." Another disciple said,
"'I'(subject) and 'mine'(object) are a duality, for where
there is 'I' there is also 'mine', but if there is no
'I', then there is no 'mine'; realization of this is
called 'understanding nonduality'."
Yet another disciple said, "Existents and emptiness are
a duality, but existents and emptiness are in fact
identical; realization of this is called 'understanding
After the disciples had each given his own view, they
asked Manjusri, who was known for his wisdom, what he
thought, whereupon he replied, "All things transcend the
realms of word and speech, and the abandonment of all
argument is called 'understanding nonduality'."
Manjusri's reply went beyond the replies of the other
disciples. Whereas they had remained unaware of the
limitations of language throughout their discussion,
Mausri realized its limitations and pointed this out.
Lastly, Manjusri said to Vimalakirti, the only one not to
have offered his opinion, "It's your turn. What is meant
by 'understanding nonduality'?"
Vimalakirti remained silent without saying a word. He
looked full of confidence, and seeing this, Manjusri
exclaimed, "Excellent, excellent! You have uttered not a
word, and yet it is you who have explained the most
skillfully what it means to understand nonduality."
But even after hearing of episodes such as the above our
faith in language may still remain unshaken. We have
always believed that there is birth and death, and even
now cannot help believing that this is so. This is
hardly surprising, for ever since we were born into this
world we have been brought up in an environment where
this use of language is the norm, and we never had the
opportunity to question it.
For those of us who place unwavering trust in language,
emptiness seems like mere dogma, and rather than being
an object of understanding, it would appear to be an
object of faith. If at all possible, we would like to be
brought to an understanding of emptiness by means of
language, that is, by logic, yet the philosophers of
emptiness are seemingly unacquainted with any such
methods of instruction. But actually Nagarjuna does in
fact respond to these wishes of ours, and one of the
expressions that he used towards this end was the
statement "a goer does not go" quoted at the beginning.
Most people maintain that "a goer goes," but Nagarjuna
How could it be possible for a goer to go When, without
the act of going, there can be no goer?
The import of
this statement may appear difficult to fathom, but it
means something like this. The idea that "a goer goes" is
predicated on the assumption that a 'goer' and the act
of 'going' constitute two separate phenomena. Hence a
'goer' already contains within himself the act of
'going' and has no need to be linked anew to any act of
'going', since a 'goer' who does not 'go' is a logical
Therefore, the proposition "a goer goes"
gives rise to the contradiction of there being two acts
of 'going'. This is made clear in Nagarjuna's following
If a goer were to go, it would follow that there would be
two acts of going. The first act of 'going' is inherent
in the word 'goer', while the second is the act of
'going' that represents the movement performed by the
'goer'. Furthermore, if there were two acts of 'going',
this would lead to the absurd conclusion that there are
two 'goers', since it is impossible for there to be only
an act of 'going' without a 'goer'.
The above argument provides a penetrating insight into
the essence of language. Every phenomenon constitutes a
complete whole that cannot in itself be divided into
parts. But when we set about representing it by means of
language, we have to go through the process of first
dividing it into a subject and an action and then
recombining the two. This results in the statement that
a 'goer' (subject) 'goes' (verb = predicate).
It would seem that all communication is of this nature.
When an image is transmitted electronically, it is first
dissected into small elemental areas, the shade or tone
of which is converted into corresponding electrical
signals that are then sent to the receiving station,
where they are reconverted to reproduce the original
image. Most people today know this, but they never think
of applying this knowledge to language. It is this fact,
unnoticed by us all, to which Nagarjuna is alluding.
However, Nagarjuna's explanation is not particularly
helpful. This is because the unnatural statement "a goer
goes" is not used in everyday speech, and consequently
people may question whether his criticism is in fact
applicable to natural speech as well. In order to dispel
this doubt, I shall try to elaborate further on his
Our everyday speech is made up of statements such as the
John goes. John falls. John laughs. John cries.
From countless expressions like these, we abstract an
unchanging entity called 'John'. Although this John is,
properly speaking, a going John, a falling John, a
laughing John, a crying John, or a John performing some
other action, we educe a 'John' who is unrelated to any
of these actions. Under no circumstances does there exist
any such abstract 'John', and yet we persuade ourselves
that this abstract 'John' does exist. Next, let us
consider the following series of sentences:
John goes. Mary goes. The dog goes. The train goes.
On the basis of expressions such as these, we abstract
the universal action of 'going'. There is no such action
as 'going' per se:it is always someone or something that
goes. But in spite of this we tacitly take it for
granted that there exists an act of 'going' per se.
We then go on to interpret everyday phenomena in the
following manner. We assume, namely, that there exist
various substances of entities, each of which chooses to
perform certain actions as it sees fit. In other words,
substances and actions each exist independently of each
other, and a particular substance is combined with a
particular action as the occasion demands. In this
fashion the idea of a 'substance' becomes deeply
entrenched in our minds through everyday statements of
the type "A does B." This is especially so in the case
of contemporary European languages, which are
characterized by the linguistic structure "subject plus
verb" (S+V). (In many other languages such as Japanese
the subject is frequently omitted.)
The reader may initially have thought that Nagarjuna had
simply substituted the statement "a goer goes" for the
statement "John goes" to suit the convenience of his own
arguments. But it should now be clear that in the
proposition "John goes" there is no John other than a
'going John', and yet people first posit a 'John'
unrelated to the act of 'going' and then say, "John
goes." This, if anything, represents a specious
substitution of words.
In the above we have considered the case of "subject
plus verb" (S+V), but the same also applies in the case
of "subject plus verb plus object" (S+V+O). Suppose, for
example, that I beat a dog. Before this situation is
expressed in language (that is, before I consciously
think of it), 'I', 'beat' and 'dog' constitute a single,
indivisible phenomenon in which there exists no 'I'
divorced from 'beat' and 'dog'. This state is described
by some Japanese philosophers as the nonseparation of
subject and object.
It is only when this phenomenon impinges upon our
consciousness and is verbalized that it is divided into
subject and object and manifests as the three
independent elements of 'I', 'dog' and the act of
'beating', the last of which links the former two. I
wrote earlier that this occurs when transmitting
information, and the act of becoming conscious of
something can be regarded as equivalent to the
transmission of information, for it represents the
transmission of information to oneself by oneself.
The two stages before and after verbalization can be
considered to correspond to the difference between
sensation and judgment. This calls to mind the following
words of Goethe: "The ears and eyes do not lie; it is
judgment that lies" (Maxims and Reflections, "Thought and
Action"). When we see a rope and mistake it for a snake,
we are prone to think that it was our senses that erred
and our judgment that corrected this error. Perhaps
because animals of a lower order are also endowed with
different senses, we regard the senses as gross and
judgment as refined. But it is our judgment that both
mistakes the rope for a snake and realizes the mistake.
The senses never err, for they transcend right and wrong;
it is judgment that makes mistakes and then corrects
A further characteristic of language is that the same
words are used over and over again without changing
their form. This too is probably another factor that
contributes to our belief that there exist immutable
entities corresponding to individual words.
In this fashion we image that if there is a word, then
there is also a corresponding substance. In most cases
there is no harm in this view, and in fact human beings
have adhered to this way of thinking for the very reason
that it has brought benefits as a result of which they
have even come to create great civilizations. But
sometimes we forget the essence of language and are
instead harmed by words and suffer from their ill
effects. Let us now consider a number of these harmful
'I' -- This is the word with which we have the greatest
affinity, and it is also the word that we repeat most
often. Consequently our belief in the existence of an
immutable entity called 'I' (one could just as well say
'soul') becomes all the more ineradicable. This gives
rise to self-consciousness, to which it then lends a
further edge, and this self-consciousness becomes a
psychological burden and causes friction with others.
At the same time, this sense of self leads us to
entertain false ideas about our own death. We imagine a
universe from which only our own person is missing. In
this manner we conceive of our death, and it frightens
us. But we fail to realize that it is because we are
alive that we can imagine such things. It is impossible
for any living person to visualize his or her own death.
The reason that we nonetheless indulge in such
imaginings is that, because of the existence of the word
'I', we assume that there also exists an entity 'I' that
is independent of the universe.
The word 'individual' exacerbates these delusions. An
'individual' is nothing but an abstract notion. In
reality one will be someone's parent or someone's child,
and one may be a Japanese or an American. But a person
independent of all relationships -- that is, an
individual -- simply does not exist.
'Atom' -- This signifies the ultimate irreducible form of
matter. Any physicist who believes that it will one day
be possible to track this down has fallen into the trap
of words. An 'atom' is nothing more than a word, and no
such thing actually exists.
'Infinity'. -- Physicists have debated whether the
universe is finite or infinite, and apparently the
arguments for the thesis that it is finite are the more
compelling. But this debate is also nonsensical, for
'finiteness' and 'infinity' are no more than words and
do not actually exist. But I do not want to leave a
false impression. Despite what I have written in the
above, the philosophers of emptiness are not telling us
to desist from using language. So long as we do not lose
sight of the essence of language, it is warrantable to
make full use of it. Provided that words such as 'soul'
and 'individual' make people happy and terms such as
'atom' and 'infinity' contribute to the development of
science and technology, then it has to be said that
language should be utilized to its full capacity. In
this sense, words are tools, and like a knife, they can
be both dangerous and beneficial. Not only does the
philosophy of emptiness teach us about the true nature
of the world, but it also imparts the wisdom for
preventing language from becoming a lethal implement.
*1. This statement is found in the
"Mulamadhyamakakarika", Nagarjuna's most important work.
In the original Sanskrit (the classical language of
ancient India) it reads: "ganta na gacchati". Like Greek
and Latin, Sanskrit belongs to the Indo-European family
of languages, and it is therefore a simple matter to
convert this sentence into European languages. The "gan-"
of "ganta" represents the root "gam", corresponding to
English 'go' or 'come', while "-ta" is the nominative
singular of the agentive suffix "-tr" (-tar), equivalent
to English '-er'; "na" is a negative particle ('not');
and "gacchati" is the third person singular of the
present indicative of "gam". The English translation "a
goer does not go" is that of Richard H. Robinson, a
scholar of Madhyamika thought.
*2. Nietzsche says much the same thing, but in a more
philosophical manner and in a way that almost suggests
that he himself had studied Nagarjuna's philosophy of the
negation of substance.
[The senses] do not lie at all. It is what we "make" of
their evidence that first introduces a lie into it, for
example the lie of unity, the lie of materiality, of
substance, of duration.... 'Reason' is the cause of our
falsification of the evidence of the senses.
Twilight of the Idols, "'Reason' in Philosophy" 2 (R.J.
Hollingdale, tr., Twilight of the Idols and The
Anti-Christ [Penguin Books, 1968], p. 36)
... in the present case our "language" as a perpetual
advocate. Language belongs in its origin to the age of
the most rudimentary form of psychology: we find
ourselves in the midst of a rude fetishism when we call
to mind the basic presuppositions of the metaphysics of
language -- which is to say, of "reason". It is "this"
which sees everywhere deed and doer; this which believes
in will as cause in general; this which believes in the
'ego', in the ego as being, in the ego as substance, and
which "projects" its beliefs in the ego-substance on to
all things -- ....
Twilight of the Idols, "'Reason' in Philosophy" 5 (ibid.,
Sadakata Akira is a professor of Indian Buddhism at Tokai
A true teacher cannot be found inside the mind. In that I take heart.
top of page
|Dr. Robert Puff|